Category Archives: Childhood
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As I write, the children are upstairs dancing. Three of them. No reason. Out of the blue, one said, “I’m going to my room to dance. You guys want to come?” I think our musicals kick off on Friday night has us feeling artsy. “Sound of Music,” was a huge hit. (Juvenile search for free, legal music to download has begun.) The singing/no speaking dinner was grand. We’ll do it again and give it time to develop. One was too shy. The others had a grand time. Five year old quite enjoyed her attempts at vibrato. A highly recommended activity, I say.
Maybe it’s a small thing to hear my child look up from reading a book and announce a desire to dance. It makes me happy. My own love of dance is hampered by the requirement to move my body without a plan. I remember going to a concert once. Nothing fashionable, just a marching band on a lawn. I loved it and I wanted to clap with the music. Most everyone else was. I was inside the sounds of trumpets and flutes, cymbals and drums, I wanted to be part of the song.
I don’t remember if I was eleven, twelve, thirteen . . . but I couldn’t do it. I pictured myself picking my hands up off my chair and putting them together, but I was too afraid to try. Not sure how to start. Worried that everyone else knew how to clap in time, but I might not.
Since that day, I have learned to clap to music when I want to. For a time, I could mostly line dance (thanks to help from anyone who would go over the simplest things with me just one more time). Line dancing had the beauty of set moves to follow, but that skill has gone the way of things.
My joyful dancing, the kind without a plan, has been with my children. I danced with them as babies when we were alone. Later my children began asking me to dance. About kids and dancing, I hold to the following to get me through the occasional requests to participate:
1. It matters more that they learn the freedom and joy of dance, than it matters that beyond the confines of my imagination and the walls of our home, I have known neither.
2. Along with remembering me taller and wiser than I am, their memories of whatever odd moves I may try to incorporate into my dancing have the potential to undergo similar distortions if I can just keep smiling.
The marvel of it grows in me. My children are upstairs dancing. For fun. Maybe I was faking it to get here, but my children love to dance. Watching them, I see the shadow of small miracles. Of these I can only say thank you. Bow softly. Wonder at such good gifts.
Admiring the ship
At our house, we specialize in “S,” for Satisfactory on report cards and “progress” reports. (We don’t tend to progress in these things.) Organization: S. Responsibility for personal belongings: S. Initiative (this is for asking questions about your homework when it’s recess time): S or N (Needs improvement). Etc. etc. etc. I want to tear up the paper. Go up to the roof and let tiny pieces cascade down in onto the lawn, preferably in the rain.
At home, I find the kids bursting over with a life and possibility not even remotely reflected in their report cards. I was a teacher once. I get that some parents want to ignore the failings of their children. This isn’t that. It’s a philosophical position about what report cards have to offer. Report cards say a little about language and math literacy and a lot about whether or not a child fits in the picture of a model elementary school student.
I found the following in the front of boy two’s notebook. It was an assignment from the beginning of the year. With boy two’s permission . . . his assignment:
Why I am Unique
Being outside is very important
I love to be outside
I love to read and read and read
Stuff I like to eat is homemade yogurt, muffins, eggs, melon
I own a chicken named Tailless
I like to fiddle and make stuff
I like to draw and make comics
I love to collect bugs, frogs, salamanders, snakes
I like to ride my bike
I make stuff with Lego
I like to climb
I like to be gross
I like to be with Misty the pony
I like to play with my sisters
I like to sing
I am flexible
I have a good spatial sense my mom says, so I am planning on being an architect
I am short and proud of it!
My ancestor was Sir Francis Drake. He was the second person ever to sail around the world.
I have a friend who swears by the theory that we shouldn’t spend our emphasis trying to fix the weaknesses we see in kids. Instead, we should figure out how to support their greatnesses. (He read this somewhere but I don’t remember where. I’m sourcing, “Conversations with Barclay.”)
I care a lot about the joys to be found in math and language literacy. But even above that, I’m going with creativity, a willingness to try new things, and deep respect for the gifts and proclivities every child finds growing inside themselves. This is what kids need nurtured.
I thanked the teachers for the progress reports. This is what my heart said.
Apologies for the barely satisfactory social development. Boy two is related to Sir Francis Drake and cannot keep his desk tidy, as he is getting ready to sail around the world.
Sincere thanks for your efforts,
The people financing the voyage
Me looking at me shaking my head
The child of today’s inspiration shall remain nameless, number and genderless. I have been in a tizzy these past few days trying to figure out how exactly to get through to said child. Rather dramatic have been the horrified wringings of my heart and hands. My child has been mean and spiteful to another child on a number of different occasions. I have accepted that my children are not angelic enough at school to warrant the unceasing praise of their teachers. We deal with creative crimes as they are discovered. What I can’t and won’t tolerate is being cruel to others. Such have been the agonies of my, “how do I parent this child,” mentality.
One of the things I hold on to is the belief that when you look for answers, you find them. It’s not an original idea. It feels personal because the truth of it has been so dependable for me.
I was guessing the answer fell somewhere in the way of the right firm consequence, words tender and wise enough to stir remorse, or an idea for restitution. I did my best at all of these. My troubled heart remained. Surely there was something more to do… The fever pitch of my worries gnawed at me.
I remembered my sadness when a girl in my grade three class was teased for her clothes. Now my own child was hurting other. While I waited for the answer, the following memories came to say hello.
Age 8: I tell my brother I have a surprise for him. I refuse to give it to him unless he closes his eyes and opens his mouth. He questions me. I am offended that he doesn’t want my gift. He closes his eyes and opens his mouth. I put a worm in his mouth.
Age 11: We watch a movie at church called, “The Cross and the Switchblade.” It’s about a man who goes to NYC to help kids caught up in drugs and gangs. At the end, the kids find Jesus. My friends and I love the movie so much that we decide to start a gang.
Gang activity one: Chase children visiting in the neighborhood out of the field we don’t own. Throw rocks and them and tell them not to come back.
Gang activity two: Capture young neighbour boy named Toby. Tie him to a tree and dance around him informing him of the power of our gang.
More memories did not seem needed. In the ensuing silence in my head, it was hard to avoid the following realizations: My child was not a write off in the compassion department. I was hardly a paragon of sweetness and light as a child. My offspring had been unpleasantly human not irreparably demonic.
Is it disturbing to know that remembering my life as a gang member left me ultimately hopeful and happy?
Boy one is coughing again. Boy two has been down for the count since Saturday. We got home from picking out the Christmas tree and he disappeared. We found him sound asleep in his room. He’s been see through white and pasty ever since, hacking like an old man. Girl one is coughing and complaining of an ear ache. Girl two is tired and also coughing. After wracking her whole little self, she breathes in again and smiles at me through watery eyes. Whatever the weather of our lives, this one smiles. Her eyes say, it’s ok, mom, life is good.
My grandfather tells a story about two brothers at Christmas. The first opens a large expensive electric train set. “Hopefully it doesn’t break,” he says. The second boy opens a small box filled with poop. “Hurray!” he yells jumping up and down. “When do I meet my pony?”
My grandfather says that’s the definition of an optimist.
It reminds me of girl two.
The frustration of kids that don’t get better and limp in and out of health for months is really starting to get at me. A musical evening to sing at each other isn’t the only thing on hold while I try and figure out how to help them beat this virus. We cancelled and postponed and sent regrets this week and last. The kids are sick of me pushing hard on bedtimes and healthy eating. They want candy and late nights NOW. I’m sick of pushing too, but I want them well.
Common-sense-me says to stay the course. Life happens. Paranoid-me is fretting that school teachers, and music teachers, and cub leaders, and the grand everybody will think we don’t care, that the kids couldn’t possibly still be sick. Perspective is a little mouse loose in the kitchen. I have a pot lid and have reached to catch it again and again. Just when I think I’ve got it, it squiggles out. Soon, I will get a broom, I tell myself. With nothing else in control, at least I can send that uncatchable mouse through the kitchen window.
Girl two has recently shared her long term vision for the future. She loves our home so much, she says, that she is never leaving. When she is a grown up, she will hire a special builder to come and make a new kind of bed. This way, she and I and her father and sister can have our own beds but have them hooked all together. (I imagine the neighbours will want to take a look someday but that’s another story.)
For girl two, nothing really matters as long as we’re together. Construction plans aside, it reminds me to take a deep breath and let it go. With sore throats, ear aches, and coughs abounding, we’re in this together. That’s a pretty good gift.
Putting girl two to bed last night, she finished her very creative prayers, unclenched her eyes, and turned to me with her face full of new wisdom.
“I bet robbers don’t say their prayers at night.”
Long narrow face with long hair
The kids haven’t had a haircut since before school started. It’s been two months since my last hair cut. It’s not a movement. I’ve been feeling cheap, and they’ve been wanting shaggy. Hair is not something I have a lot of opinions about. In fact, very few of my hopes and dreams have involved hair. Only one really. I wanted to grow my hair quite badly once in order to be a real Indian brave. My mother pointed out that I was only qualified to be a squaw. The fact that I am a girl has at times proved troublesome to me, but I ignored her narrow vision of my possibilities. In my dreams, I was already running barefoot in my long hair and loin cloth, bow and arrows in hand.
I have a grade four picture to prove that by the times I was nine, my hair had grown at least a little bit below my shoulders. When I was ten, my mother met a woman who had once been a model. I have since realized that this kind of person can be dangerous. My mother saw stars and a woman with qualifications.
Fifty-Something former model declared that my hair was all wrong for my face. There was a formula. My face was long and narrow. I needed short hair. My grade five school picture notes the change. Sometimes I would look and the mirror and try to see my face the way she saw it. This thing now bearing a description seemed deserving of inspection.
The next summer my face spoke to Fifty Something again. Straight hair did not suit. She could hear my long and narrow face saying, “permanent.” All school pictures from there on are identical give or take an inch. I did not change my hair again until I was in my thirties, at which point I finally stopped getting permanents.
My girls admire extremely long hair. The only strong opinion I have about hair is that it shouldn’t be in your food when you are eating. I have therefore kept them in bangs against their wishes, until now. My boys have grown tired of the tidy cuts I like. So yes, my children’s hair desires landed in lock step with my budget cut backs this fall. We are all looking a little shaggy.
“I’m taking everybody in this week for a cut,” I finally say.
“Mom, please, no . . .please, please, please . . .”
“It’s cheaper this way,” whispers my wallet.
Their hair has been bugging me for weeks now. Friday, I finally snapped, but not the snapped where we finally get our hair cut.
We’re not going to the hair dresser. Any of us. The guy with a job can see his barber. The rest of us are growing our hair.
I expect mine in particular will look fairly awful, but I would rather have tried it than not. Before I cut it short again, maybe I’ll stuff a few marshmellows in my cheeks and see if it makes any difference.